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Title: Trapped Between Two Tails: Trading Off Scientific Uncertainties via Climate Targets

Climate change policies must trade off uncertainties about future warming, about the social and ecological impacts of warming, and about the cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We show that laxer carbon targets produce broader distributions for climate damages, skewed towards severe outcomes. However, if potential low-carbon technologies fill overlapping niches, then more stringent carbon targets produce broader distributions for the cost of reducing emissions, skewed towards high-cost outcomes. We use the technology- rich GCAM integrated assessment model to assess the robustness of 450 ppm and 500 ppm carbon targets to each uncertain factor. The 500 ppm target provides net benefits across a broad range of futures. The 450 ppm target provides net benefits only when impacts are greater than conventionally assumed, when multiple technological breakthroughs lower the cost of abatement, or when evaluated with a low discount rate. Policy evaluations are more sensitive to uncertainty about abatement technology and impacts than to uncertainty about warming.
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Resource Type:
Journal Article
Resource Relation:
Journal Name: Environmental Research Letters, 8(3):Article No. 034019
Research Org:
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Richland, WA (US)
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Country of Publication:
United States
climate change; uncertainty